Before rock and pop artists were everywhere on television, from morning news digests to late-night talk shows, one either caught a favorite artist in concert, or waited – sometimes for what felt like forever – to catch a glimpse of their idols on the odd all-music show. In the 1970s, this meant “The Midnight Special” or “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert,” pioneering late-night music television platforms in the pre-MTV era.
However, the biggest of the big bands – Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead and Rolling Stones, for example – might take the plunge into celluloid land, casting themselves in a concert film or, in a few cases, a full-blown feature. More often than not, these films – Zeppelin’s epic “The Song Remains the Same,” Yes’ “Yessongs,” “The Grateful Dead Movie,” or “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones” – would play special engagements, perhaps at midnight on a Friday. These became near-concert rituals for a whole generation of rock lovers, a way to get up close and personal with the bands even if they weren’t on tour. There was something magical about the experience – due in part, no doubt, to the mystique that still existed around artists in the days prior to the everywhere-at-once, overexposure plan that most stars follow today.
The Dipson Amherst Theatre (3500 Main St.) is celebrating those bygone days and offering a new generation the opportunity to experience some legendary musicians and performances on the big screen in the “Rockumentaries” series screening midnight Saturdays through March 2. I have had the opportunity to watch all of these films, so here’s the schedule with my star rating.
Saturday: Led Zeppelin, “Celebration Day”
The full high-def deal documenting the already historic 2007 reunion show, featuring founders Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones, with late drummer John Bonham’s son Jason Bonham filling in for his dad. A profoundly magical performance ably captured on film. ∆∆∆∆
Feb. 2: Peter Gabriel, “New Blood: Live In London in 3 Dimensions”
A high-definition rendering of Gabriel’s soul-stirring March 2011 show at the Hammersmith Apollo, with the 46-piece New Blood Orchestra backing him. The 3-D visuals are augmented by brilliant animation and graphics sequences, but it’s the sound quality and the strength of the performance that will really blow you away. ∆∆∆∆
Feb. 9: The Rolling Stones, “Charlie Is My Darling”
The Stones captured on tour in Ireland in 1965. A must-see for fans, with beautifully grainy black-and-white film capturing the band’s raw, primal energy both on stage and off. ∆∆∆
Feb. 16: Joe Satriani, “Satchurated”
A smartly edited film documenting guitar hero Satriani’s 2010 tour with a full performance shot in Montreal. Outstanding visual and audio quality. ∆∆∆
Feb. 23: The Doors, “Live at the Bowl ’68”
Rock as high cinematic art. The finest full-concert representation of the Doors at the height of its collective prowess. Jim Morrison’s other-worldliness is in ample evidence here. ∆∆∆∆
March 2: Pat Metheny, “The Orchestrion Project”
Jazz legend Metheny fronting his mechanically controlled mini-orchestra in concert. Must be seen to be believed. Though the sheer mechanics of the performance are mind-boggling, what is most deeply affecting is the manner in which Metheny controls all this technology with masterful subtlety, forcing the “musical robots” to bend to his harmonic and rhythmic will. Brilliant and bizarre. ∆∆∆∆